British Sea Power are no strangers to soundtracks. Not only do their own records conjure up curious, wave lashed realities of their own, but they’ve added their own music to existing documentaries Man Of Aran and Baraka and were commissioned to score From The Sea To The Land Beyond: Britain’s Coast On Film. Now they’re turning their powers to the dramatic world, the band have created the original soundtrack for new film Captain Webb – the true story of the first man who swam the English Channel. Ahead of its cinematic on Friday (14 August), Yan from the band has written us this guest column in praise of eccentrics. Well takes one…
“Eccentric English history obsessed maverick oddballs BSP make soundtrack for a period film about an Eccentric English oddball maverick!” It’s safe to say we initially had a few worries about typecasting on this one. However it seems that we are not able to escape the sea just like the main character in Captain Webb.
We met the film’s producer Jack Fisburn to discuss Captain Webb in a Brighton pub where he won us over with beer and an in depth knowledge of Victorian sports training techniques. We were somewhat familiar with the name of Captain Webb due to the musical backed audio recording of A Shropshire Lad by John Betjeman’s on the Banana Blush album. It seemed meant to be. We were to score a film about the first man to swim the English Channel.
Jack was fully aware of BSP’s sea based output and in particular our score for Robert Flaherty’s 1934 film Man Of Aran. Man Of Aran however is a silent film and the music has free reign to build and soar over the majestic and at times brutal imagery. With Captain Webb we needed to fit the music tightly around dialogue and action. The correct ambience would have to be created often in very small lengths of time supporting various storyline twists and moods. I find images naturally provide strong clues as to what will and won’t work or will be allowed. Certain melodies and sounds just seem appropriate and others are strongly denied by the film itself. Strangely these restrictions can be quite freeing.
We worked as small teams within BSP or individually and presented Jack and each other with ideas. There was no particular leader on behalf of BSP and various members wrote important parts of the main score. Most musical discussion was done via demos of ideas passed over email rather than verbally. Some specific jobs naturally suited certain people. Noble created and recording several period feel pieces including a brass band played by Brighton And Hove City Brass. Abi‘s multi tracked viola was great at providing the elegance and mood suitable to Edwardian times and chimed with the female lead role. Hamilton created some very strange sounds in an effort to capture the strange character of the sea and jellyfish.
To me Webb was some kind of old fashioned Rocky Balboa. Warren Brown, the actor playing him looked very muscle bound and beaten up when we met him on the beach dressed as sailors. The sea looked very big and a little scary. These thoughts and influences combined into a theme for the Webb character. The subliminal influence of Jaws and Chariots Of Fire was almost pushed aside.
Jack suggested using interpretations of old folk songs. These were for the most part reimagined into dreamy minimal pieces by Hamilton and Abi. On one occasion however this led to perhaps the most memorable and certainly the most BSP moment whilst providing a different way to record a segment of the soundtrack. Myself, Noble and Phil were filmed one sunburnt afternoon on Dover Beach, dressed as mourning sailors, drinking rum and singing a folk ballad about a drowned friend and flags, whilst a rowing boat-based Steve Oram loudly cajoled a well sized and tightly clad Warren Brown into the cold Channel via megaphone.